Have Good Manners Gone the Way of the Quill Pen?

I’ve become a little obsessive about Jane Austen lately. No, I’m not trying to commit her books to memory, but rather I’ve been reading about her and the Georgian/Regency era. Good manners in particular ruled the day. Not to say, those folks didn’t gossip. The affairs of the Prince of Wales, later the Regent(Still later George IV) and his younger brothers and their excessive lifestyles were fodder for the gossip sheets. And these guys(one could hardly call them gentlemen)were not known for denying themselves any kind of pleasure. Their poor sisters were denied any kind of fun, but that’s another post.

But in Jane Austen’s books, we see most of her characters trying to behave with “more than a degree of civility.” Some the texts on my beloved Jane’s era point out that to be as open and emotional as Marianne Dashwood was not  exactly the best of manners. While Marianne would have claimed she was being honest and refusing to hide behind “manners” there was a reason people talked about the garden or the weather or the crops. It was simply considered ill mannered to be deliberately rude, even to one’s servants.  Jane Austen, the middle class daughter of a clergyman and far from being an aristocrat, was raised to know how to behave. The fun in her books is watching some of the characters(and Marianne was certainly not among them)behaving very badly, sometimes to tragic end(I refer you to Mansfield Park) Rudeness never knows success.

What is the point in this ramble? A friend recently sent me a link to a story entitled, “Authors Behaving Badly,” which went into great detail about the exchange of  less than polite comments going back and forth between readers and an author. Earlier in the week I heard part of a newscast on NPR about a popular cricket player whose unflattering tweets about fellow players and (I think) the team manager “went viral.” Said player’s popularity took a nose dive. Such is our media driven world today. You can post anything about anyone you want on the Internet and never have to face them.

And that, gentles all, is the point. Take care what you post or tweet because it will come back to bite you. Hard. Despite what Alice Roosevelt said(“If you haven’t got something nice to say, come sit by me.”)civility still counts. I’m not suggesting one fawn or be obsequious(I love that word)in your postings, but to remember what you might think is a private posting can suddenly explode and people you’ve never  and may never meet are responding in full force and with great anger. I would hope I would never publicly “trash” any writer whose works I have read. If you must vent, do it by private e-mail or better yet by phone. Don’t get the reputation for being hateful. I would rather become a mid-list writer(working on it)than to be known as a meany. You don’t always have to say you think. Be nice. Be respectful. Be kind. Someone I had professional dealings with years ago, told me she remembered me by name.  Considering it had been years before that when we met, I was intrigued. When I asked why, she said, “You were kind to me. You listened to me.” I consider that to be one of the finest and most humbling compliments I have ever received, professionally or personally.

So the next time you feel the urge to tweet or Facebook your anger or frustration,take a deep breath, count as high as you need to, and take up your quill pen to write out(you do have one, don’t you?)what you want to say before you post it. Edit as needed and ask yourself, What would Jane Austen do?

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